What Do Russians Think About The War? – Opinion
How Do Russians Feel About the War?
by Alan Nafzger
During the Ukrainian crisis, Vladimir Putin’s government increased its repressive measures by closing down alternative media outlets and restricting access to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Given the threat of a severe prison sentence for opposing the war, it is now difficult to understand what the average Russian or the country’s elite thinks about the struggle.
Despite the secrecy, informed outsiders have a general understanding of what is happening in Russia. The conflict has generated anti-Putin sentiment and some dissent, but they are confined to a small minority and are unlikely to have much of an impact on Putin’s policies or even lead to his departure.
The majority of Russians were as unprepared for war as the majority of Russian soldiers, if not more so. When Putin declared the start of his “special military operation” in Ukraine on national television, notable Russians, including billionaires, athletes, and social media influencers, reacted in an unexpectedly hostile manner. One courageous Russian journalist fearlessly entered the background of a government program while brandishing an anti-war protest banner. Her name is Marina Ovsyannikova.
“It is unusual to have billionaires, other elected officials, and other important people of society publicly speaking out against the war,” says Alexis Lerner, a US Naval Academy expert on dissent in Russia.
Other Russian cities have also seen anti-war demonstrations. It is impossible to estimate how many people have participated in these protests, but according to the human rights organization OVD-Info, around 15,000 Russians have been imprisoned as a result of the events since the crisis began.
Could anti-war protests at the highest levels of government and in the broader public herald an impending insurgency or uprising against the Putin regime? According to experts, these instances are still quite unlikely.
Political scientists refer to this as “coup-proofing,” and Putin has been successful at it. He has erected barriers that make it extremely difficult for anyone in his administration to successfully act against him, such as staffing the military with counterintelligence operatives and dividing the state security agency into distinct divisions led by committed followers.
According to Adam Casey, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Michigan who studies the history of coups in Russia and the former communist bloc, Putin has been prepared for this scenario for a long time and has taken numerous coordinated actions to ensure he is not vulnerable.
Similarly, turning antiwar protests into a significant influence movement will be extremely difficult.
According to Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard who studies protest organizations, it is difficult to develop sustained collective dissent in Russia. The Putin administration has shut down or limited the activity of organizations, movements, and media outlets perceived to be hostile to or linked with the West.
Everything is supported by the government’s strict control over the information environment. The majority of Russians get their news from the state-run media, which has consistently generated pro-war content. Many of them appear to believe what they are told: According to a research conducted by an independent group, 58 percent of Russians supported the fighting to some extent.
Furthermore, prior to the war, Putin appeared to be a legitimately popular person in Russia. Many Russians believe he is the person who saved their country from the turbulence of the early post-Communist era. The elite rely on him for their prestige and fortune. Even a long-term decline in his popularity is unlikely to result in a coup or revolution, but a disastrous conflict might change everything.
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Author: Alan Nafzger